Updated: Mar 2
“Why work for free?”
Generally, the point of working is to earn money so you can fund things you need (like food, rent, or gas) or that make you happy (like an extra pair of shoes, a new rifle scope, or a flight to somewhere fun.) Working for free thus seems counter intuitive. After all, you slaved and sweated for your college degree so that you could stop singing “I Ain’t Got No Money,” not so that you could give away your services for nothing.
It’s amazing the mental shift that can result from renaming a thing or concept, so let’s dub “working for free” something else entirely. Let’s call it “volunteering.” Suddenly doing work for free makes a little more sense, doesn’t it? Volunteering is considered a Very Good Thing and no one would deny that it’s a worthwhile endeavour. Still volunteering can seem daunting. It’s often a big commitment, it takes up time, it consists of giving away your skills for nothing, and it’s one of those things that laughs in the face of your comfort zone.
Goodbye, comfort zone. You will be missed.
While it’s obvious that volunteering benefits the people you help, research shows there are a whole bunch of benefits for you as the volunteer too. Pushing you out of your comfort zone is just one. If you’re hesitant about volunteering and need some extra motivation to actually get out and offer your time and skills, keep reading. You might be surprised what volunteering can do.
A major and unexpected boon of volunteering is that it can help you live a longer and healthier life. Seems strange but studies have proven it: people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than non-volunteers. They also have lower rates of depression later in life. That good feeling you get from helping others is called “helpers high,” and according to researchers, it’s an actual physical sensation. Not only does it stave off depression, it also improves your energy levels.
Volunteering benefits your mental health in other ways too. It’s been shown to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self-esteem, social anxiety, anger management issues, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). How so? Volunteering makes you feel connected to others and increases meaning in your life. More connection and more meaning means more sense of purpose. All that results in a decrease in symptoms, reduced stress, and overall mental health improvements!
Volunteering has another nice health bonus. It can make you slimmer. While this certainly doesn’t apply to all volunteer positions, oftentimes the work gets you moving, whether it’s lifting boxes or running after kids. In a world where obesity is a huge health concern, having something built into your schedule that helps you get fit is a pretty nice side benefit of volunteering.
Bottom line, studies prove volunteers live longer, healthier lives. Pretty impressive already, but there’s more.
Not only does volunteering directly impact your health, it also makes you happier, and happier people are healthier. How does it make you happier? For starters, helping others boosts happy feelings. That’s the “helpers high” at work. Volunteering also builds community by widening your social circle and causing you to interact with the same people regularly, which in turn makes you happier. Loneliness decreases as socialisation increases, bonds are built, and friends are made. All of that is a recipe for a happier life.
Side happiness bonus: research shows that people who volunteer their time end up feeling like they have more of it. Feeling like you have more time can definitely make you happier. Think back to your college days.
Health and happiness aside, volunteering also positively impacts your paid job, so all that working for free can actually translate into earning more! How does that work? The main reason is that volunteering sets you up for better job prospects. Working as a volunteer allows you to develop skills you might not have had the chance to develop otherwise and those new skills can translate to the workforce, boosting your value and thus your salary. Secondly, studies show that employers prefer job applicants who list volunteer work on their resume. That’s because it shows you learned new skills, you can work as part of a team, and you tend towards being innovative and civic-minded, all things that would make you a better employee. In addition, volunteering can help you figure out what kind of work you enjoy doing. That allows you to narrow your focus when looking for a job or capitalise on your passions and skills in your current job.
Volunteering can reap some impressive benefits, boosting your health, happiness, and resume, but to get the full benefit from volunteering it’s important to recognise it for what it really is: ministry. The real point of volunteering is to give - to help and serve others, and to make the world a happier and more beautiful place. If that’s not worth working for free, nothing is.
Acknowledgment: A big thank you to Dallas Zink for helping with the direction of this post.